Thursday, February 14, 2013

Physics of the Impossible - Michio Kaku

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In countless Star Trek episodes this is the first order that Captain Kirk barks out to the crew, raising the force fields to protect the starship Enterprise against enemy fire. So vital are force fields in Star Trek that the tide of the battle can be measured by how the force field is holding up. Whenever power is drained from the force fields, the Enterprise suffers more and more damaging blows to its hull, until finally surrender is inevitable. So what is a force field? In science fiction it's deceptively simple: a thin, invisible yet impenetrable barrier able to deflect lasers and rock­ets alike. At first glance a force field looks so easy that its creation as a battlefield shield seems imminent. One expects that any day some en­terprising inventor will announce the discovery of a defensive force field. But the truth is far more complicated. 

In the same way that Edison's lightbulb revolutionized modern civilization, a  force field could profoundly affect every aspect of our lives. The military could use force fields to become invulnerable, cre­ating an impenetrable shield against enemy missiles and bullets. Bridges, superhighways, and roads could in theory be built by simply pressing a button. Entire cities could sprout instantly in the desert, with skyscrapers made entirely of force fields. Force fields erected over cities could enable their inhabitants to modify the effects of their weather-high winds, blizzards, tornados-at will. Cities could be built under the oceans within the safe canopy of a force field. Glass, steel, and mortar could be entirely replaced.

Yet oddly enough a force field is perhaps one of the most difficult devices to create in the laboratory. In fact, some physicists believe it might actually be impossible, without modifying its properties.

The concept of force fields originates from the work of the great nine­teenth century British scientist Michael Faraday!

Faraday was born to working-class parents (his father was a black­ smith) and eked out a meager existence as an apprentice bookbinder in the early 1800s. The young Faraday was fascinated by the enormous breakthroughs in uncovering the mysterious properties of two new forces: electricity and magnetism. Faraday devoured all he could con­cerning these topics and attended lectures by Professor Humphrey Davy of the Royal Institution in London.

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